The Significance of Art in Chopin's The Awakening

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Edna seeks occupational freedom in art, but lacks sufficient courage to become a true artist. As Edna awakens to her selfhood and sensuality, she also awakens to art. Originally, Edna “dabbled” with sketching “in an unprofessional way” (Chopin 543). She could only imitate, although poorly (Dyer 89). She attempts to sketch Adèle Ratignolle, but the picture “bore no resemblance” to its subject. After her awakening experience in Grand Isle, Edna begins to view her art as an occupation (Dyer 85). She tells Mademoiselle Reisz that she is “becoming an artist” (Chopin 584). Women traditionally viewed art as a hobby, but to Edna, it was much more important than that. Painting symbolizes Edna’s independence; through art, she breaks free from her society’s mold.

One form of art which is predominant in The Awakening is piano playing. Piano playing symbolizes a woman’s role in society. In Edna’s society, artistic skill, such as piano playing and sketching, were accomplishments which ladies acquired. They were merely enhancements to their education, not possibilities for occupation. Women artists, whether they were musicians, painters, or writers, had a difficult time being accepted in society (Dyer 86). Kate Chopin presents two women who are foils to Edna: Madame Ratignolle and Mademoiselle Reisz (Koloski 117). Both of these women play the piano; however, their purpose and motivations are vastly different. The way in which they view their piano playing reflects their values.

Adèle Ratignolle uses art to beautify her home. Madame Ratignolle represents the ideal mother-woman (Bloom 119). Her chief concerns and interests are for her husband and children. She was society’s model of a woman’s role. Madame Ratignolle’s purpose for playing the pia...

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...instead, she chooses to succumb to death (Boren 181). On the other hand, choosing the solitude of the sea is a triumph of Edna’s artistic soul. In life, there is no real solitude; Edna fearlessly swims out to face the solitude of death.

Primary Source

Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007. 535-625. Print.

Secondary Sources

Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Views: Kate Chopin. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Print.

Boren, Lynda S., and Sara DeSaussure Davis, eds. Kate Chopin Reconsidered: Beyond the Bayou. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1999. Print.

Dyer, Joyce. The Awakening: A Novel of Beginnings. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993. Print.

Koloski, Bernard, ed. Approaches to Teaching Chopin's The Awakening. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1988. Print.

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